America

PinkPantheress’s Music Broke the Internet. Up Next? Everything Else.

On a recent September evening at Nickelodeon Universe, the cavernous indoor theme park tucked into an East Rutherford, N.J. mall, the 22-year-old British pop musician PinkPantheress was perched 10 stories above the ground, gleefully waiting to ride Shredder, billed as the world’s tallest free-spinning roller coaster.

Pink — who values her privacy so much that she won’t reveal her real name to journalists, even ones prone to motion sickness riding the world’s tallest free-spinning roller coaster with her — wore a lacy white cardigan, flared black pants and boots that seemed designed to traverse the surface of the moon. Eighty-five feet below, a patient bodyguard held her small, crescent-shaped purse.

Over the past two years, PinkPantheress has risen to similarly vertiginous heights at thrill-ride speed. Once an anonymous aspiring producer uploading tracks from her bedroom, she now has more than 23 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 2.6 million followers on TikTok, where videos set to her songs have accumulated 2.6 billion views. The remix of her single “Boy’s a Liar,” featuring a memorable verse from the rising rap star Ice Spice, remains one of the year’s most infectious and ubiquitous singles, peaking on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 3. (In an email, Ice Spice called Pink “the sweetest, most humble artist I’ve ever met,” and said she and her friends been fans since 2021 because “she just sounds like a mystical fairy.”)

When our Shredder chariot arrived, its floor and seats were covered with what at first appeared to be rice. Pink leaned in to one of the attendants to ask, in her Londoner’s lilt, what it actually was.

“It’s just the stuff we put on vomit to clean it up,” he replied. “Don’t worry, we’ll give you guys the next car.”

Pink was unperturbed — which is remarkable, since she used to be petrified of roller coasters. But she likes facing her fears, or, as she said, “putting myself in situations that would make me usually feel a little uncomfortable.” How did she get over this particular aversion? “Honestly, research. Once you realize people do not die from things like this,” she said, waving a manicured hand in Shredder’s direction, “it makes it easier.”

Her next fear to conquer is one of the most daunting in a young musician’s career: releasing a full album, “Heaven Knows,” due Nov. 10. (A 10-song release called “To Hell With It” arrived in 2021.) “Honestly, I’m quite terrified,” she said. “I know I’m overthinking it, but it is scary.”

“Sometimes I’d rather not explain what I want something to sound like, I’d rather just do it,” PinkPantheress said of taking a strong role in all aspects of the creation of her music.Credit…Adama Jalloh for The New York Times

The British producer Mura Masa, a friend and collaborator, said in a video call that it was a challenge Pink was eager to tackle. Commuting together to and from the studio where they recorded earlier this year, they had deep discussions about albums — what they liked about the format, what their favorites got right and whether it was a worthwhile way of putting out music in the age of TikTok. They decided it was.

“A lot of albums these days are just insanely long collections of what people have been working on, shoehorned into a theme,” Mura Masa said. He added, with a laugh, “That’s practical for merchandising and touring reasons. But she really wasn’t interested in doing that at all. She had things she wanted to say.”

“Heaven Knows” is an effervescent collection of infectious hooks with a sound that crosses Y2K aesthetics with the boldness of contemporary hyperpop. It traces a loose narrative of a doomed love and is held together by a thematic focus on death and the afterlife. (“I listened to My Chemical Romance when I was fairly young,” she explained.) On one of the catchiest songs, “Internet Baby,” her angelic vocals flutter across a glitchy beat, culminating in the insistent refrain, “I am not your internet baby.”

Pink said that track is her way of pushing back against the expectation that modern musicians — “especially ones that hail from online” — exist simply to provide fan service. “People are rampant. They’re always asking for demos, I’ve got people hacking me. So that song is me being like, ‘I’m not your internet girlfriend. I’m not this virtual girlfriend that you can just ask for things from,’” she said. The point, she said, is: “I’ll do this when I want to.”

Music producing has long been an exclusive boys’ club, but Pink is representative of a generation of young women who have swerved around the gatekeepers by simply figuring out how to do things for themselves. “Sometimes I’d rather not explain what I want something to sound like, I’d rather just do it,” she said.

“I find that being a good producer really comes down to your ear,” she added. “I’m not too bothered by equipment or how good or expensive something is. When people are basically flaunting how much something costs, I find that those aren’t really the people that I’m drawn to working with.”

We shouted over the roar of roller coasters and a playlist blaring pop smashes by Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran (Pink idly sang along to “Shape of You”). The following day, she attended her first MTV Video Music Awards — and left after walking the red carpet. She said she had something else to do that night, but at the theme park, she’d also confessed she’s not much of a party person; the nocturnal but solitary feel of her music concurs. “I love a day trip,” Pink said. “I love going to parks, museums, galleries. But nighttime stuff? No. I’m inside the house. I’m actually a nighttime person, but inside my house.”

PinkPantheress onstage at a June festival in Spain. “Do I enjoy performing on a big stage? No,” she said.Credit…Alejandro Garcia/EPA, via Shutterstock

PINKPANTHERESS’S GROWTH HAS been driven by her desire to “get things done quickly” — a quality that dates back to the years she’d spent lunch hours and free periods in her high school’s music room. “I wouldn’t sing, because I guess I was nervous about singing, but I would get my friends who could sing, and I’d produce for them,” she said. She learned to play piano as a child, and later found that skill mapped well onto working on a Midi controller.

When her friends were late or busy, rather than wait around, Pink starting doing it all herself. “At that point, I realized that I had the control to do everything — I could control how I sang, what I was singing about.” She started to make music, but “still with the intention of being anonymous and not being seen by anyone.”

The earliest songs Pink posted online — and the first two that blew up on TikTok — heavily relied on samples and loops from British electronic artists of the ’90s and 2000s: The moody “Break It Off” was built around the backing track of Adam F’s drum-and-bass classic “Circles,” while the dreamy “Pain” interpolated Sweet Female Attitude’s U.K. garage track “Flowers.” She added her own flourishes and melodies, as if doodling over these previous compositions in a magenta gel pen.

“Even though she sort of instantly became a — I hate the word, but — viral sensation,” Mura Masa said, “all I really heard was somebody who was a really good songwriter with a very unique voice.” He thought her early experiments in repurposing others’ backing tracks was born out of that same sense of urgency to find “the quickest way possible to get something down.”

Mura Masa contacted her in 2021, and that July, realizing they lived only 15 minutes from each other, she came to his garden studio to work on a collaboration. The first song they wrote together — “Just for Me,” a sweetly sung but vaguely eerie tale of obsession — represented a crucial step forward for PinkPantheress. Rather than building a song around a sample, she and Mura Masa worked together to create an original track that sounded like the sort of song that PinkPantheress would have sampled. It went viral just the same.

“Heaven Knows” may have less borrowed material than her previous compositions did, but that doesn’t mean she’s abandoned the art of sampling. When it’s done tastefully — she cited productions by Kanye West and Daft Punk — Pink thinks sampling can be “more impressive than writing all original stuff.”

The problem is that tasteful sampling isn’t easy to come by these days. When I mentioned the current trend of artists sampling and interpolating huge hits, Pink rolled her eyes so hard it was nearly audible. “I literally hate it,” she said. “I’ve had some producers come in with a sample, and I’m like, this is just so obvious.”

Trusted collaborators like Mura Masa know what sounds she gravitates toward. One day in his studio, he worked up a chirpy club beat. She took it home and wrote the hook to “Boy’s a Liar,” which became a TikTok smash and peaked at No. 2 on the U.K. singles chart. “I genuinely loved ‘Boy’s a Liar’ when she first dropped it,” Ice Spice said, “especially because it has that Jersey bounce to it that reminds me of the type of beats I like to get on anyway.” Mura Masa was not aware that Pink was working on a remix with Ice — Pink sent her a DM when she posted “Boy’s a Liar” in her Instagram Story — until a video of the two shooting the music video reached social media.

“What’s going to give her longevity is her ability to go out and get things for herself,” Mura Masa said, “and not have to rely on industry figures or management or producers to facilitate things like that.”

“I find that being a good producer really comes down to your ear,” PinkPantheress said. “I’m not too bothered by equipment or how good or expensive something is.”Credit…Adama Jalloh for The New York Times

HAILING FROM THE internet can have its drawbacks, especially when artists blow up before they’ve developed a sense of themselves as a live performer. In March, Pink’s low-energy live set at South by Southwest was widely panned.

Asked about it, she was cleareyed about her room for improvement as a live act. “Do I enjoy performing on a big stage? No,” she said. “Because my music is so fast and loud on occasion, people expect me to do some crazy stuff, and that’s not really me,” she added. “That’s why I enjoy my headline shows, because fans understand where I’m coming from and what my artistry looks like. People know it’s not going to be R&B dance routines with backup dancers and stuff.”

In a video chat a few weeks later, Pink sounded more optimistic and determined about growing as a performer, and genuinely excited for an upcoming stint of shows opening for Olivia Rodrigo. “I can perform live, and I’m way better now than I used to be,” Pink said. She’s been going to movement classes, taking singing lessons and making sure she’s caring for her vocal cords. “I think if I keep doing that,” she said, “I’ll end up being fine. I just need to relax.”

A few years ago, Pink’s TikTok algorithm served up a video of someone talking about manifesting — thinking about a specific goal until it simply happens. At first, she thought it was “rubbish.” “But weirdly in the back of my head I was like, ‘When the desperation calls, maybe this might be something I should look into.’”

She began manifesting small things: Boys responding to texts. When she saw results, she turned her manifestations to her music career. Her rise has been so swift and charmed that sometimes it almost makes her believe she’s magic, as she did when she was a child.

As the theme park was closing, another magic moment arrived: On that megahits playlist, “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2,” her remix with Ice Spice, started blasting over the speakers. Pink just threw her head back and laughed.

Related Articles

Back to top button